Educating the Web Community

##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->IInternet usage both in school and at home has increased dramatically. The Web has become an important tool for instruction and administration, as well as a rich source for information and resource sharing. According to the U.S. Census Report issued in September 2001, 51 percent of schools had one or more computers in August 2000, compared to 4.2 percent in December 1998. Nine out of 10 children have access to a computer - four out of five at school and about two out of three at home. Two-thirds of homes with a school-aged child have a computer; 53 percent have Web access. Though com-puters are more available, they are not equally distributed.

A growing concern due to limited IT budgets exists in the present economic situation, which means fewer projects will be undertaken and the availability for educational activities will be curtailed. Many new and exciting applications using the capabilities of the Web are in existence or in stages of development, and are used by the educational community. For example, information on available jobs, social services and health assistance, government projects, and educational opportunities are just a few of the applications. Information on the Web also provides employment opportunities, though fewer jobs are predicted to be available in 2002, and applicants will most likely face tougher competition, especially for entry-level workers. But employers are still using the Web for job placement, and job-seekers can use the Web to find jobs in specific industries.

 

Health and Social Services

Though many sites are devoted to health and social services, users are normally overwhelmed with the amount of information presented. In a recent survey undertaken by The Pew Internet & American Life Project on society's use of the Internet, 93 percent of people who use the Web for health resources and/or to get information on specific medicines want more information on a particular illness or condition. Yet, only 23 percent indicated they were always able to find the facts they needed.

Panasonic, the North American subsidiary of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., has developed a Web-based home medical system that is sold to the public in Japan. The Tele-Homecare System consists of a patient terminal, network server software and doctor terminal software linked via the Web. The system allows for more home care and remote monitoring. The patients' vital signs, measured by traditional devices such as thermometers, stethoscopes and blood pressure equipment, are sent through the server to the medical staff. Any unusual vital sign information prompts the network to notify the doctor immediately. In addition, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has developed the Tele-Health Initiative to deliver home-based medical care to veterans via the Web.

 

Finding the Right Information

The availability of Web resources for educators is growing - whether from the federal government, such as the Department of Education; state departments of education; local institutions; or teachers wishing to exchange information. For example, at the state level, the Minnesota Office of Technology's newest Web site (www.kids.state.mn.us) provides information about state government, special sites for children, homework help, advice to parents, etc. And Maryland's e-government initiative, eMaryland Marketplace (www.emarylandmarketplace.com), plans to have 50 percent of its services available over the Web by next year.

The 2001 Digital State Survey (see below) by The Center for Digital Government, Government Technology magazine and The Progress & Freedom Foundation ranks the top 15 states on services offered electronically, including the Web.

Students generally see themselves as capable of finding information and are confident in using the computer effectively to communicate with others. But finding the right information is still a problem, as is being able to locate many of the resources and using them intelligently. Generally, there is little difficulty with e-learning, though the socialization that occurs from in-class learning is missing. At Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, the "Clipper Project," a five-year study funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, allows Lehigh-bound high school students to take introductory courses in calculus and economics online. It is becoming increasingly important to serve the nonresidential student and those who cannot attend for various reasons. However, the target audience is still the older working adult.

A recent study of approximately 1,000 students at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania compiled some interesting statistics on how they use the Web, including:

  • More than 97 percent of study participants said they have used the Web for educational purposes, but often have difficulty in finding what they are looking for.
  • 17 percent said they used the Internet for illegal assistance with class assignments.
  • 38 percent said they have accessed pornographic Web sites.
  • 62 percent said they have used Napster to download music.
  • 15 percent said they support the idea of having universities limit students' access to controversial Web sites.

Conclusions

Students and faculty are expecting services from the Web to include registration information, class schedules, grades, homework assignments, etc. They also want to use the Web to identify significant research, but many lack the understanding of Internet structure and the proper use of browsers. In January 2000, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) published Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education for an information-literate student. The standards included preparation access, evaluation, assimilation, presentation and the ethical use of information. To accomplish the above, the Web community must be given the resources, ongoing professional development, quality software, unlimited Internet access and freedom to search the Web; though, online free speech is still debatable.

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court is to rule on the case of a middle school student who developed a personal Web site in 1998, which included derogatory statements about a teacher and the principal of the school. Included on the site were solicitations for money from the rest of the students to hire a "hit man" to kill their teacher. The majority opinion from the Commonwealth Court, the state's lower court, was that the Web site disrupted the educational process and constituted a valid threat. The minority opinion noted the statements came from a child who had no intention of carrying out his fantasies. The student pulled the Web site upon learning so many people were annoyed. There is no deadline for when the state Supreme Court must rule on the case.

We have the responsibility to prepare students to use the Web in a prudent and responsible manner. To accomplish the above, an institution's media specialist or librarian is very helpful. I am personally impressed with Joyce Kasman Valenza, the library information specialist at Springfield Township High School in Erdenheim, Pa., and what she d'es in educating teachers, students, parents and the community. She has a weekly column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and gives talks and demonstrations on the use of the Web. She says: "Librarians are the information specialists, Web site developers, database experts, technology leaders, upholders of intellectual freedom, protectors of intellectual freedom and protectors of intellectual property." We need more people who can assume that responsibility.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.

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